The Top 10 Christmas Albums Of 2010
Ah, another shitty year is ending, and we find ourselves trying to buy our way out of it with Christmas presents while struggling to block out the same old endless stream of yuletide muzak. Luckily, there's always a few notable holiday-album standouts to break the tedium, this year including both new efforts and a few revived chestnuts. Santa advises you to skip the holiday dreck from Susan Boyle, Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey, and the O'Jays, and try these out instead:
11 Acorn Lane, Happy Holy Days (Wooden Hat)
While saccharine, painfully sincere holiday "classics" spin on endless repeat at the mall, this Gotham twosome wisely schlock up their lounge-y yuletide sound. Sexy and drunken horns, swinging accordion, cooing choruses, and a cha-cha beat are all milked for maximum merriment on jolly takes of "Jingle Bells" and "Deck the Halls." Ideal warm-weather music for a freezing season.
Various Artists, A Blackheart Christmas (Blackheart)
An unheralded late-'09 holdover courtesy of Joan Jett's label, this features Joan, of course, plus her bandmates on their own, her producer, and her label roster, making for a collection that's a cut and a half above your average mall-punk. As such, the Dollyrots' bitchy take on "Santa Baby," Jett's tense version of "Little Drummer Boy," the Cute Lepers' trashy "Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You" and the Ramones rush of Girl in a Coma's "I'll Be Home For Christmas" make for a headbanging holiday party.
The Boy Least Likely To, Christmas Special (Too Young To Die)
On the U.K. duo's third album, they prove themselves twee-er than even Belle and Sebastian, but they're still far from wimpy, crafting adorable, jaunty, breathy, folk-tinged pop. When they sing "I still believe in Santa Claus" (on "Happy Christmas Baby"), you believe it. When they sing "Jingle My Bells," they make it sound PG-rated (if that) rather than NC-17. And even when they go out and get bombed on "Christmas Isn't Christmas" ("...without you"), they still sound sweet.
James Brown, The Complete James Brown Christmas (Polydor)
This massive two-CD, 37-song collection of the Godfather's three Xmas albums (from '66, '68, and '70) starts with raw soul (a beaut of a take on "The Christmas Song," and dig the chilling screams on "Please Come Home For Christmas") and works up to some uncut funk (try "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto," plus "Hey America" with its "Hava Nagila" shout-out) that's so solid, even the vibes-based instrumentals aren't wasted.
Willie Colón/Héctor Lavoe, Asalto Navideño, Vols. 1-2 (Fania)
It's not two hours of "Feliz Navidad," wise guy. What you have here is two early-'70s albums so full of infectious salsa -- including hoards of percussion, blaring horns, and festive choruses -- that you'd feel out of place sitting down while listening to it. Featuring genre staple "La Murga" and the boisterous "Traigo La Salsa," and led by Lavoe's soaring vocals and cuatro master Yomo Toro, it's become a justifiable Latin-music classic that you can now call one of the best reissues of the year.